Album: The Hidden Cameras

Mississauga Goddam, ROUGH TRADE
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The Independent Culture

There's something engagingly subversive about the way Toronto's Hidden Cameras use the smooth, comforting textures of MOR as disarming cover for singer Joel Gibb's overt gay imagery. Particularly since Gibb's fallen-chorister tenor lends an element of uncertainty to the lyrics, rendering only the occasional cluster of words clearly audible. "Can he really be saying that?" you wonder, as one or another startling phrase - "the heart of his meat and the splurge of his sweet"; "with poppers blind, it's wedged inside"; "I want another enema" - slips past your defences on a sleek swirl of strings and jolly backing vocals.

There's something engagingly subversive about the way Toronto's Hidden Cameras use the smooth, comforting textures of MOR as disarming cover for singer Joel Gibb's overt gay imagery. Particularly since Gibb's fallen-chorister tenor lends an element of uncertainty to the lyrics, rendering only the occasional cluster of words clearly audible. "Can he really be saying that?" you wonder, as one or another startling phrase - "the heart of his meat and the splurge of his sweet"; "with poppers blind, it's wedged inside"; "I want another enema" - slips past your defences on a sleek swirl of strings and jolly backing vocals.

In most cases, the answer is a firm yes, he is. A short perusal of the lyric booklet confirms that "I Want Another Enema", for instance, is indeed a song about not just colonic irrigation ("good waste is an oxymoron"), but also extreme depilation, an obsessive-compulsive anthem rolling along on waves of pounding keyboards and strings. The exultant melody, though, makes it the most comically infectious singalong you'll hear all year, the title hook liable to slip out when you least expect it; most likely the supermarket queue.

It's a device used throughout Mississauga Goddam, from the Divine Comedy-ish stylings of the opening "Doot Doot Plot" to the tender yearning of the title-track finale, which adapts Nina Simone's classic civil-rights anthem to fit Gibb's own struggle to surmount the closeting homophobia of his home town: "I'll be wearing my disguise/ Until I rid my life of Mississ-auga goddam." With urgent, scrubbed guitars and wholesome orchestral arrangements reinforced by background choral scatting, The Hidden Cameras sound like some bizarre union of The Velvet Underground and the Ray Conniff Singers: the world's only avant-garde MOR gay-romance ensemble, perhaps. Though always employing finely-honed, catchy melodies to focus the songs' impact.

That Gibb manages to celebrate such still-controversial aspects of gay life as cruising ("Builds the Bone"), rough trade ("Bboy") and sodomy ("In the Union of Wine") with such winning exuberance and romantic spirit, is the key to the album's appeal. In some cases, notably "That's When the Ceremony Starts", there's an almost religious sense of devotion in the account of what appears to be an S&M liaison. Likewise, the joyous, evangelical tone of "Music is my Boyfriend", in which sexual awakening is tightly interwoven with an emerging love of music, brings to mind the sinister ambivalence of clean-cut folk-music cult The New Main Street Singers in Christopher Guest's marvellous A Mighty Wind: "Sing to be happy, hum to be free/ The eternal harmony, music and me." Seems like a nice boy?

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